It was in Jefferson City — the Show-Me state capital — that we learned to appreciate a good Chamber of Commerce.
It was our first trip, and we didn’t really know what we were doing. On a whim, I called the Jefferson City Chamber. “Hello, my name is Scott Schaefer. I’m a business professor at the University of Utah, and I’m calling with a somewhat unusual request…”
In the years since, this plan — starting each trip with calls to the local Chambers — has become the standard operating procedure for Roadside MBA.
Sometimes, this works great. Matt Parker, head of the Dothan, Alabama chamber, grew up in Salt Lake City (of all places) and he and I spent half an hour bonding over the merits of various Salt Lake neighborhoods before moving on to business. Matt then set up our whole day, and introduced us to two of our all-time faves: Charlie Genthner of Key Fire Hose, and Lyle Peluso Jr. of Panhandle Converter.
Other times, not so much. One Chamber president told me: “You’re expecting business people to just meet with you and tell you all their strategic secrets? I don’t think we can help with that.” (We had a great day in that town, despite the Chamber’s fears of corporate espionage…)
But the man who started it all was Shaun Sappenfield in Jeff City. Shaun listened as I awkwardly described our goals for our visit to Jefferson City, and replied by e-mail 48 hours later with a detailed agenda for our day’s visit, including lunch at the new Country Club. Shaun even spent the day escorting us from business to business (which Paul appreciated since that was the only day of any trip where he didn’t get us lost at least twice).
Shaun introduced us to Pat Dubbert of Midwest Products Group (see Chapter 8!) and sort of introduced us to Andy Wren of Wren Solutions (Ch. 5). Andy, you see, lives in Atlanta (but his company has significant operations in Jefferson City) so we chatted with him by phone.
And lunch at the Country Club? Well, that was really something else, a true highlight of our many travels. There, we met with Clyde Lear, the founder of Learfield Communications… and let’s just say that to call Clyde a “character” is akin to calling Yellowstone a park. We were, unfortunately, unable to work the Learfield story into the book, but we’ll get our thoughts on it out soon, either here or elsewhere….